Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Bertha comes good.

Finally get the pots from the Buxton firing, delivered in three banana boxes and wrapped in news paper and much re used bubble wrap. It wasn't possible to examine the pots straight away, merely a cursory glance. They appeared ok. Later that night it was possible to examine some of the pots in more detail. The big bowls were under fired, the ash glaze had not run and pooled as hoped for. The shino on the other hand  had behaved beautifully, orange where it had been thinly applied, a fat white where it was thicker. There was some carbon trap in places and the best piece was a simple bottle made from black clay which had stained the shino so that it was a dark red.

What of the thump in the night? A large bowl placed on the top shelf had exploded sending fragments throughout the kiln. There were several casualties, some bowls with bits of pot fused into the glaze in the bottom and other pieces with sharp appendages. Luckily there were plenty of the smaller pots intact and after a couple of weekends at craft fairs a good proportion have found new homes.
Almost another year complete, time for reflection, send off applications for next years events and plan new work. There are wooden lids to be made and wire handles to be fitted. Wood to be found, cut and stacked, new chimney bricks to be bought.

A potters work is never done.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Getting the best out of Bertha.

Having a kiln not far from Buxton, the highest town in England, built on an exposed hillside open to the elements, little in the way of insulation and a firing planned for the end of November is not the ideal. But with a need for pots for the impending Christmas events there was little option.
Bertha is an Olsen fast fire, built along the lines of the Joe Finch wood fire version found in his book. Bertha is beginning to show her age, largely due to exposure to the elements and lack of tender loving care. Being single skin and of high temperature bricks, the effects of several over enthusiastic stokers have taken their toll and the back of the fire boxes bulge and many of the bricks are cracked and have large gaps around them. The kiln also features the tallest chimney I have ever seen on a kiln of this size and must qualify for red lights to warn low flying aircraft. Why is it that Potters whack another six rows of bricks on the chimney when they experience firing difficulties?

The usual routine is to get up to Blackwell, about two hours drive, clean out the fire boxes, and start the pack. Slowly the other participants arrive with offerings for the kiln and we usually finish packing around six, close the wicket, put on the gas burner and head for the pub for a pint and dinner.
It takes some courage to leave the log fire in the pub and head out to the kiln site. It was bitterly cold packing the kiln but now the temperature is plummeting and it is below freezing. The pyro says 130 and I light one of the fires with off cuts of oak strip wood. We fire with fire box lengths of oak, quite small in section, 25 X 25 up to 25 X 50 millimetres. Sue managed to get a huge stack of the stuff and this must be the 5th firing using this wood.

Everyone has gone, there is just the two of us left to fire the kiln through the night. I light the second fire for the fire box next to the chimney and the temperature slowly rises. Bertha responds to a light touch, two or three lengths each stoke otherwise there is masses of black smoke and the fire comes back out of the fire box. Gently does it and by 4 am the passive damper in the base of the stack is out and we are aiming for some body reduction. The sliding damper broke off some time ago and still isn't fixed. We leave the passive damper out to get some heat to the bottom of the kiln and hit 1000 degrees around dawn. It is a beautiful dawn, the Owls have gone to sleep and the Blackbirds are kicking off their territorial squabbles.

There was a loud thump and the sound of breaking ceramic around 300 degrees. Can't see anything, so we carried on, pretending nothing had happened. It will be revealed in two days time.
Norman arrives around nine so I grab an hours sleep in the back of the van and around twelve o'clock cone nine is well on it's way. Still easy on the wood, three pieces each stoke, black smoke and the temperature drops. The smoke clears and the temperature rises slowly, disregarding the pyrometer which has a mind of it's own and claims it is only 1150 degrees we have cone ten over. At one o'clock Sue decides we have finished and we call it a day, clam up and I head off home.
I couldn't make it for the opening,  I thought about the firing as I got ready to head off for Welbeck and the Harley Christmas Fair. Would it be alright. Would the Shino be ok. It was risky to try it on so many pots without testing first. All that work and effort invested could be ruined at a stroke.
Was it a good firing?
What was the sickening thump during the night?
 Would there be Christmas pots for all?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Last Orders for Christmas

Pots waiting for their fiery fate
After what has seemed ages, we have enough pots assembled to fire the Thrussington kiln. Although the kiln is only just over twelve cubic feet, it takes an awful lot of small vessels to fill it and it needs to be tightly packed to get the best results and be economically viable.
The wood is stacked and seasoned after a long dry summer, we are at last ready to start packing the kiln.
I normally work alone with help from Laura, so it was good to hear from Steve who wanted to come along and share the experience. He came armed with a couple of tea bowls for the kiln, chocolate fudge cake and flowers for Laura so it was impossible to turn him away.
It takes all day to pack the kiln, close the wicket and get everything ready for an early start in the morning. We check the weather, only torrential rain will stop us now, so a dismal, grey cloudy day presents no real problems. A big fry up is the key to a good firing and plenty of tea and once the Chickens are out it's time for Laura to light the fire.

Usually the small fire takes hold quickly and we have to hold back the fire and keep the long flames produced from burning softwood from licking the pots. For some reason the fire was reluctant to go anywhere, maybe it was the high humidity and damp wood from the top of the pile, but three hours in we were still only two hundred degrees in the chamber and things were going very slowly. Moving to the top of the fire bars and reducing the air into the kiln got things moving along and at the six hour mark we started body reduction. With all the cones over and an even colour top and bottom we did our final reduction, allowed the atmosphere to clear and closed up and called it a day. Just over twelve hours and it felt like it would be a good firing.

It was three days before we could open the kiln. Always an anxious part, quick peek into the spy holes and confirm the cones were all flat, we slowly take out the wicket. The tops of the big pots at the top looked good and the rush of warm air met us as the wicket is dismembered and stacked for next time.

We all eagerly squeezed into the narrow opening and looked at the contents of the kiln, seeing new pots for the first time, never exactly as envisaged, but exciting all the same. It was indeed a good firing, some real beauties waiting to be discovered in the midst of the body of the chamber, still warm and pinging as the glaze settled. The finale to two months of work and thinking already of the next firing and the little changes one might undertake to make it even better.

New Pots for Sale

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Thinking Aloud

At a demonstration I did earlier this year, someone asked me what I thought about while I was coiling pots.
It took me aback somewhat. The usual questions are more straightforward. "What clay do you use?"
"How long have you been making pots?" and I have my ready answers.
I didn't know what to say. Was it the fact that coiling might be deadly boring and I planned the dinner menu whilst my hands worked on auto pilot?
Did stunning creative thoughts flash through my mind constantly?
Am I thinking where the heck did I put that kidney scraper, I will need it soon?
I think I said that I was totally immersed in what I was doing and left it like that.

We have a whole bunch of Christmas Fairs coming up soon. You apply for these things and say yes to others and suddenly the events stack up. There are certainly not enough smaller pots in stock to cater for the stocking filler market, which is what we usually end up selling in the run up to Christmas.
So it's been into the workshop making again after a bit of a lay off.
It takes an awful lot of small pots to fill my kiln.
An offer from Sue Mulroy to share her kiln came just at the right time. I suspect Sue has the same problem. She has an Olsen fast fire that has an appetite for pots that is insatiable. Sue is a thrower and makes domestic ware, even so, it's a lot of pots.

I have been making small bowls and I suddenly remembered the strange question posed earlier in the year and I found myself thinking about what I was thinking about.
I have the radio on mostly, but it's background noise and if you asked me what music had been on, I probably couldn't say exactly. Making pots slowly with coils is a bit like painting. Constantly thinking about the shape and wall thickness. Needs to be a bit fatter. No maybe a bit taller. Clays a bit soft need to rest this one to stiffen up. It's off centre I like that. Maybe push it over a bit more and leave the rim the way it is... and so on. Constantly asking questions. I think about how I might glaze it, where it might go in the kiln. Does it go right at the front to get the most fly ash or is it a quiet pot for further back.

Some times my mind would slip into revery and this was going to be THE pot. Alas it's short lived and the next one is going to be absolutely the best.

Pots drying in the Autumn Sun

So there you have it. Not a lot of Earth shattering thoughts really, but coiling pots is definitely not boring and you can't read a book whilst you do the simple bits.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Local Potter Wins Arts Prize

Every year I receive an email invitation from The Upper Broughton Art Show to submit work for the annual Art Exhibition. For various reasons, I have never got around to putting a couple of pots in a box, driving the few miles and having a go. This was the 29th year that this village Art Show has been staged and Artists from all around the area submit work, mainly painters, but a couple of sculptors and potters have on occasion displayed their wares.
The show is a weekend affair with a private view by ticket on the Friday evening, so work has to be delivered on Wednesday. By mid afternoon there were paintings stacked all around the walls and it was questionable how the hanging committee would fit them all in along with the wood carvings, sculpture and pottery. The village hall is quite small, there is an adjoining room, charmingly called Rose Cottage. It seemed a daunting task.

Intrigued we went along on Saturday afternoon to experience Upper Broughton Art Show. The standard of painting was extremely high and varied, all the work was displayed without looking crowded, flowers had been arranged and with the spotlighting now on it all looked very good.

There were even tables and chairs set out, with cloths on the tables, floral arrangements and an amazing array of cakes for sale. If there is one thing village ladies excel at, it is putting on a spread, cake and tea sales was very brisk. It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon and we stayed longer than we had anticipated and to cap it all I discovered that I had been awarded first prize for the best 3-D work.

In contrast some of the other invitations that appear out of the ether are less interesting. My favourite has to be:-
 " Hello - I have just set up a Social Enterprise called Wiggle-Jiggle Arts-Making the Imaginary Real and bringing Education to Life we have a Christmas crafts, baking and singing workshop on Friday 23rd December. There will be a craft fair too and I was wondering if you would like to have a stall - it is free - please also pass the details onto your crafty/artistic friends".

I don't think my crafty friends would appreciate that.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Bountiful Harvest

A Lady commented recently that my pots were very fruit like. I don't consciously take inspiration from nature or make claims that my work is inspired by nature / the rolling Leicestershire Countryside or fruits from my allotment, so I was somewhat surprised by her insistence that nature had a guiding hand in what I make.
Recently the bottles that I enjoy making have got fatter, the bases smaller,  but this is more about playing with form and balance. Making the form float and appear less grounded. It makes firing more difficult as the shapes are harder to support and making is slower otherwise the shapes collapse and sink. I find these later pieces more satisfying and the opportunities for glazing and allowing the ash to settle on the broad shoulders is much greater than the skinny bottles I was making a few years back.
Work evolves, and is always moving on so I thought it would be appropriate to take advantage of this years pumpkin harvest on the allotment and take a photo opportunity with fruits and pots.

Maybe I should start to put ridges into the bottles and complete the imitation further. Maybe not, nature seems to get on fine without my intervention.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Did you carve it?

It's a hard life, I just knew that this was going to be one of those events. The Melbourne Festival and Arts Trail is always interesting, Artists are put into all sorts of venues, ranging from peoples homes, Estate agents, Church Halls even the Undertakers. We were in the Catholic Church Hall and as I had been down to demonstrate making on the stand, we set up on Friday. The stand looked good, and Laura had done the business with the flowers, and the clay and few tools I need and use were at the ready.
I had hardly begun on a large jar when the first visitors arrived and having fielded the first questions about throwing. ( I get a lot of that )! Someone asked if the bottles were hollow, were they carved and how did you get the clay out of the middle. To complicate things the concept of spending a day or so making something and then putting it in a kiln and taking it to temperatures five times more than a domestic oven proved too much and the poor soul retired looking even more confused.

By Sunday the pressure was beginning to tell and a walk round to look at some of the other Artists, restored my belief in what I do and there was a final push to finish off the rather large vessel. I was still getting asked if the pots on display were thrown, even though the rather large sign says Handbuilt, Coiled Pottery and a large three quarters finished coil pot sits there in front with me rolling clay for Britain.
There was a steady flow of visitors all weekend, some interest and a "They look nice Enid, bit pricey though" It's amazing how people are completely oblivious to your presence if you are working and say things they wouldn't say to your face. We sold next to nothing and have retired hurt.

To salvage something from the weekend, we decided to try and get the jar home. Laura sat with the pot wrapped in a towel on her lap and I drove sedately home. Amazing how many roundabouts there are and how much you lurch left, right and left again on the forty minute drive back.

The jar survived and some minor attention next day has rescued the piece. Next problem. It's too big for my little electric kiln to bisque fire.  

Hey Oh, it's all in a days work.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Fresh Pots

Over a week of waiting, finally the kiln has been opened and we all tentatively took our first peer inside. It looked good, lots of shiny pots and runny glazes.
Pete's pipes were all intact, no obvious disasters, time to get in and start handing out the pots.
Carefully lifting off their wads.

Even after a week the kiln and pots are surprisingly warm. It's not too comfortable in there.

But someone has to do it!!!!

I think everyone agreed it was a good firing, plenty of oohhs and arrrhhhs, bit like bonfire night watching fireworks burst in the sky.
The pots passed out along a human chain, occasionally the chain stopped as someone realised that they had their pot in their hands and a closer look was needed. There were some very tasty pots, only a few had welded themselves to the shelves and floor.

Here is a selection of some of my pots, cleaned up, the shell soaked off and the bits of wad removed.



Thursday, 1 September 2011

Playing away

The inactivity recently on the blog is because I've been away playing with big boy's kilns. Last week I went to Devon, helped pack and fire Nic Collins Anagama kiln and Sabine's soda and wood Olsen kiln.

Mark packs the anagama
The finished job
Full on and tiring, we also built an experimental kiln with mixed results. So the last couple of weeks or so has been making, bisque firing and trying different clays. My usual stuff would come out dark and uninteresting over a four day firing. There was a mild panic when we realised there was probably not enough pots to fill the two kilns, so it was set to and make stuff. It's ok for these guys that throw, just knock off a few tea bowls, but us coilers take things a little more slowly. I made a large dish using an original Cardew hump mould and a few small bowls. In the event there was enough work and the hurriedly made pieces still sit in the workshop.
The experimental kiln in full flight

We opened the Olsen last Saturday, the results were good and I am advised it was a good firing. I am not a convert to Soda firing, some of the pots were a bit bling and shiny for my tastes. It was fun and spraying in the Bicarbonate of Soda at high temperature is something else.
The Olsen ready to close up and fire

The wait of over a week for the Anagama to cool is painful, the thought of my pots lying in the remains of the embers, slowly cooling and as yet unseen 250 miles away is strange. Can't even grab a sneaky look through the side stoke hole and I can't wait to see what comes out. We plan to drive down on Saturday at some ridiculous hour in the morning to get there for the 10.30 grand opening.

Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Grand Opening

It takes a couple of days for the kiln to cool down. It was still a 100 degrees when we checked, but by slowly taking down the wicket door, it is sufficiently cool to pick out the first pot. It looked like an OK firing, cooler at the bottom than usual, but the big bowl at the top had not slumped as we feared.

It is a strange sensation opening the kiln. You have an idea what the pots might look like, but they never fully match up to expectation and it can feel a bit of an anticlimax. The more interesting pieces are put to one side and sit on the dining table for a couple of days as I get to know them and usually the 'Black dogs' disappear and it is maybe an acceptable firing after all.
There were one or two real goodies and all the little pots for an order were all ok too.

Now I have to clean them up, get the wadding off the bottoms and grind off the bits of glaze that has run into the wadding. An unpleasant job and I leave it as long as possible.

The last couple of days has been fully occupied with making wooden lids for the boxes. It is really nice to work with a different material and finding the right bit of wood for each box is a challenge. My Dad left me a box full of offcuts from his stick making, I don't know what some of it is, it is very dark and extremely hard, possibly Laburnum. Takes ages to polish, but the effort is well worth while. Once they are done I will take some photos and update the website.

Last couple of days a Pigeon has appeared, very tame. It allowed me to pick it up, it's very young, possibly someones lost racing Pigeon. It has no leg ring, so I've christened him Bob. He was back again today, pecking the seeds from the Valerian while I had a bit of death and destruction with some pallets.

Starting the work for the next firing already!

Monday, 18 July 2011

How big is yours!

People ask all the time "how big is your kiln?" I could never do the maths. Cubic capacity is not my strong point. Anyway the kiln holds enough pots, about two months worth of work!

Well we measured it and with the aid of one of the children's calculators, and can quite truthfully say that my kiln is 0.3358 cubic metres or (in old money) 12 cubic feet. Here is a picture.

Here it is loaded. There are about 70 pots in there of varying sizes. We fired the kiln today. The firing took about eleven and a half hours. Cone eleven down at the top. (that is about 1300 degrees centigrade)
We will open the kiln in a couple of days time when it is cool enough to open. Just the long anxious wait to see if it was all worth while.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Critical Acclaim

"Wright's pots have a fruitfulness, a fecundity that gets close to the essentials of form and forcefully evokes the complexities and volatility of fire. Their very materiality takes us by the hand and leads us to the essential".

" I have no idea what that means Maud, you are wasted pecking around the garden. You should be writing stuff for Ceramic Review".

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Still trying to catch up.

Four events almost back to back have left the stocks a little depleted. I need to fire up the kiln before Art in Clay at Hatfield, so that means I need to make enough work to fill the kiln.
Also mix new glaze, which also means washing wood ash and take advantage of the recent sun to dry it out.

I was never much good at chemistry at school, my glazes are very simple. I use Bernard Leach's basic 4 4 2 formula. (not a starting line up for England's football team !) But wood ash, feldspar and china clay. The ash varies, friends save it from their wood burners and stoves and bags of it lie around waiting to be washed and sieved. It gets labelled, there is Bob's Blue, nothing to do with the colour. It just happens to come from Bob at the Blue Lion. He said it was quality hard wood, but there were lots of screws, nails and MDF fittings mixed in. Mmmm should be interesting.
Then there is Sue's sludge from Sue Mulroy's wood kiln and Shirley's Sycamore, logs from the tree in her garden, which makes a very beautiful pale blue glaze. JT is John Turners hard wood ash, which he saves every winter and next winter we will burn Eucalyptus from Patricks dead tree, which died after the severe cold last winter. Need to think of a name for that. Last firing we used Wussy Willow, a pale insipid green, but good over dark clay. I don't keep meticulous records like Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie, the ash varies too much and I only mix small batches each time. It's more interesting that way and some times the slops from several batches make interesting results. Occasionally the results are a complete surprise and can't be repeated. Like the dark brown that goes grey when applied thickly. It must have been because the wood was full of rusty nails.
Jayne's ash produced a blue with brown speckles. It must have been all the sweety wrappers that were burnt and mixed with the ash.
Here is a picture of Laura's garden. It has looked lovely for the last few months. It's a kind of semi controlled, wild self set style, but today the sound of bees and the many butterflies flitting about made it a real pleasure just to stand and enjoy. It's aromatic too, walk through it and the scent of Marjoram, Sage and Thyme is quite heady.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Back to work.

This is the first weekend for ages that we have been at home. Lots of events and lots to talk about.
At the end of May we were at Clay2day at Keukenhof Castle, trying to display and sell pots. It was really cold with very strong winds, several potters stalls were blown over and several had work blown off their stalls and broken. The public stayed away which was a shame as the event was really well organised, with lots to engage and entertain, set in the beautiful grounds of the castle.
There was a Japanese theme to the event this year, with money being raised for the Tsunami appeal. One of my pots was chosen as the flower vessel for the tea ceremony and Iesaka Ruriko made this wonderful Ikebana display. 
We tried to recreate it when we got back home, like making pots, it takes more than a couple of hours to master.

Two weeks after Clay2day we were at Potfest Scotland, along with a few others that had made the trek to Holland, also set in beautiful gardens, this time Scone Palace near Perth. It rained, but it was very busy, The Scots not put off by a wee drop of rain, and we had a great show and managed to explore Perth as well.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

One of life's simple pleasures

Tomatoes picked straight from the vine in a simple wood fired bowl. Tomatoes by David Wright, bowl by Richard Batterham